The Internet has revolutionized many things in many ways. One of the most significant things Internet has radically affected is
products service based products delivery. It has reduced the distance between the customer and the producer of products. One of the interesting developments is the Beta release of products to the end customer. So what’s new here? Beta stage has always been there in technology products where the product is debugged, i.e. the stage after alpha (new features added to the products) and before release candidate (all important bugs removed). But this conventional definition of Beta is no longer true in the Internet World. How I see the Beta now is a stage encompassing market research, development, testing, debugging and early adoption. The idea is to get the initial concept out there to the customer with some prototypical implementation and do the rest with the help of the customers.
This is a great concept in many ways. Market research gets a whole new perspective. With the help of business intelligence software, market researchers can track the customer usage of the products, analyze the early responses and adoption scenarios. Product development becomes an agile process. The speed of an idea to convert into a product is more rapid then ever before. Reason – there’s no need to wait for market research to be completed and requirements to be assembled to start the development. It’s more of an ongoing process. Features can be added sporadically while customers are adopting the product as per customer needs and requirements. The biggest benefitter of all is testing and debugging. Instead of a few dedicated resources to test the product, Beta release opens the doors to the World, potential future customers to test the product. This in no way can replace those dedicated resources, but still the combined force of many many people using the product is like a great addition. Beta release is also a great way of booking the early adopter’s loyalty. Adding features to the product, fixing bugs and making changes based on feedback from early adopters make them advocates for the product which helps in mass adoption.
Beta release has some drawbacks of its own, specially for the established brands. If a product is launched in Beta and is very buggy and hard to adopt, it’s not easy to attract the customers back to the product with the competition providing equally compelling and attractive options. Another downside is if the company is not able to attend to the early adopters, take in their feedback and respond to it, these customers can influence mass adoption in a negative way. The bigger the brand behind the product, the more vulnerable is a Beta release.
Beta release is a real delight for start-ups wanting to establish a brand with the help of Internet community. With the immense power in the Web to connect people, it’s really good to have a positive word of mouth behind your brand as a whole and product in specific. It is very important to give due credit to the early adopters and recognize them in making the Beta a success. Companies roll out schemes to recognize the early adopters in different ways. One of the most prominent ones in the recent years which comes to mind is Gmail Beta. Google provided early adopters option to invite new users to have a Gmail account. This helped Google fulfill two objectives – gave early adopters a feeling as if they were a part of Gmail product in development and increased the public adoption of Gmail. Before the beta tag will get off Gmail, it will already have more than a million customers.
So when should a successful Beta release get rid of the Beta tag? I think, the best time for a product to come out of the Beta is when the product is ready to cross the chasm (Geoffrey Moore). Things like bug free product, stability and other technological issues are important considerations, but removing the Beta tag in a timely manner is also very important to attract a certain type of users who are not very excited to adopt a product which they think is not yet officially released. So when the product has enough customers to help it get into the main stream and get mass adoption, it should evolve into an official release.